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MfS Course Details


These are the details of the Mindfulness for Singers course  

Week 1


Overview:

Week one starts with a welcome talk, introductions, and information about the course with an Overview and Contents hand-out. There then follows a discussion on the definition of mindfulness, and a discussion on the concept of “being on autopilot” where participants offer their own experiences. Participants then start learning mindfulness with a Breathing Awareness exercise, which leads into a group discussion on the experience of becoming aware of the breath in a new way. This exercise is then expanded into the Breathing Journey exercise. After a group discussion comparing experiences from the two breathing exercises, participants learn the 3-Minute Breathing Space and explore the experience in discussion. This flows into a discussion about the present moment and the types of tasks participants might do on autopilot. Participants choose a task, such as brushing teeth, of which to become particularly aware during the week as an informal mindfulness practice. Then the Mindful Movement exercise is introduced as the formal 10-minute daily practice for that week and is followed by an experience discussion session. Blank journals are handed out, questions invited, and the session ended. 

Handouts:

3 Minute Breathing Space Instructions

3 Minute Breathing Space Free downloadble MP3 from franticworld.com. 

Mindful Movement Instructions

Mindful Movement MP3


Daily Practice:

Mindful Movement

Habit Awareness.


Detail:

Autopilot: Living on autopilot is useful in some cases and not useful in others. It may develop during childhood to help deal with excessive cognitive input combined with the need to do things quickly.  It is useful for doing repetitive mundane tasks leaving the mind space to think about other things. It is not useful when learning a skill such as singing. Participants were encouraged to suggest their own experiences of autopilot.

Discovering the breath: Mindfulness practitioners believe that in being aware of the physical sensations of the breathing mechanism that one can move into awareness of the present and out of the autopilot mode.  As an introduction to breath awareness, participants were asked to close their eyes and put one hand where they felt the most obvious sensation of normal breathing, and their second hand in the next most obvious place. Participants were interested on opening their eyes that the others had put their hands in different places.

3-Minute breathing space: A formal mindful exercise where one minute is dedicated to each stage.  At first, participants become aware of the sensations of breathing. Then they take a quick scan of the body and mind for any immediate physical, mental or emotional sensations. Thirdly, they imagine they are able to breathe into the physical, mental or emotional sensations of that present moment. 

Mindful Movement: A combination of simple yoga movements of 10 minutes in length designed to bring the mind into present moment awareness of physical sensations. The yoga movements concentrate on the shoulders and neck and are therefore useful for dealing with tension in these areas, which could be particularly useful for singers 

1. Participants are asked to stand in Mountain Pose, which is an alert posture with feet a hip’s width apart and arms by the side. This aligns well with good singing posture awareness. The participant is encouraged to be aware of their breathing in this posture, another good singing practice. 

2.  The arms are raised above the head very slowly being aware of all the physical sensations during the movement. The posture is held for a few moments for the mind to be aware of the breathing and then gradually lowered. Then a few moments are taken to become aware of any new sensations and any changes in breathing sensations.

3.  The shoulders are slowly rolled forwards and then backwards mindfully.

4.  The chin is dropped to the chest and the head slowly rotated until the ear comes towards the shoulder. The head is rolled from shoulder to shoulder with the participant being aware of the opposing muscles and the feeling of stretch and release.

5.  The participant drops the chin to the chest and slowly curls forwards at the waist with the arms and head relaxed and drooping and breathes into the posture mindfully releasing and relaxing any tensions with each breath.  Then they slowly curl up to standing and rest once again in mountain pose to be aware of the physical changes and concentrate on breathing once more.

 

Habit Awareness: Participants were asked to be aware of one task a day, such as brushing their hair or having a shower. They were encouraged to sensually experience the task in as many ways that their senses would allow, such as being aware of each muscle movement when brushing or watching the steam curl as the shower came up to heat.

 

Week 2

Overview:

This week, like most subsequent weeks, starts with the 3-Minute Breathing Space, a recapitulation of the previous week and a chance for participants to ask questions and share thoughts and experiences from the week’s mindfulness practices. 

A research-based educational component explores the commonality of modern day stress and anxiety with reference to its historical necessity for successful human evolution, and encourages participants to share their own experiences particularly in the field of music performance anxiety. This is followed by a talk about somaesthetics and the body/mind connection that leads into the participants experiencing the Body Scan, which is this week’s 10-minute formal practice. After a group discussion about the experience of the Body Scan, there is a talk about the expectation and reality of doing mindfulness, and participants are introduced to the concept of Being and Doing modes. Participants then do a Mindful Breathing exercise, have a discussion, and talk about research on the effects of mindfulness on health. Participants are encouraged to become aware of a different habit/task for the next week as their informal practice. Questions are invited and personal journals are distributed.

Handouts:

Body Scan Instructions.  

Body Scan Introduction MP3

Body Scan Meditation MP3


Daily Practice:

Body Scan

Habit awareness (a new one this week).


Detail:

Stress: Different types of stress experienced by music students and music professionals, such as physical, mental, emotional and job related stress were discussed in the group. Stress is possibly a modern day evolution of the flight/fight syndrome so helpful for early man warning of life threatening situations but now exhibiting itself in, generally, non-threatening circumstances. Body/mind feedback in stress and non-stress circumstances was discussed and, as an illustration, the experiment investigating the effect of head movements on persuasion by Wells & Petty (1980) was introduced to the group.

Body Awareness: This was explored in the Body Scan exercise (see below).

Expectation and reality:  People expect to become relaxed and this is often seen as the goal of doing mindfulness exercises. However, it was pointed out that the only goal is to develop present moment non-judgmental awareness. Relaxation might be an extra effect.

Being and Doing Mode: We are human beings, not human doings.  The concept of ‘being’ compared to ‘doing’ was discussed.  Someone in the ‘being’ mode is aware in the present moment of doing something or choosing not to. Someone in the ‘doing’ mode is often on autopilot and often thinks they must always be doing something or they are not achieving.

Body Scan: This exercise is usually done lying down. The participant is taken on a mental journey around the body to explore physical sensations and bring the mind into present moment awareness. Usually, the participant starts at either the head, or the toes of one foot and explores their physique, body part by body part. The body scan for this project of ten minutes length was designed specifically for singers and so, as well as the normal body scan, a little more time was dedicated to awareness of the vocal principles involved in singing such as the tongue and larynx  

Mindful breathing: A ten-minute sitting breathing awareness exercise.

 


Week 3

Overview:

Week 3 begins like week 2. 

The first new exercise is a Mindful Yoga session with yoga poses used to explore the relationship between the awareness of necessary muscles, the relaxation of unnecessary muscles, and the relationship of the body’s different postures to breath changes. This is followed by a research-based talk about performance nerves where the participants share their own experiences. Then the participants are introduced to the mindful concept of primary and secondary suffering  and invited to approach possible future performance nerves with this in mind. They do two versions of the Mindful Breathing exercise: the Breathing Journey, and the Breathing Counting exercise . These are the 10-minute formal weekly exercises. A post-exercise group discussion is followed with a discussion about our present moment experience of life as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. As an informal practice, participants are encouraged to become aware of how they view moments during the following week as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and to be curious as to their tendency of mind in moments of neutrality. Questions are once again invited, food intolerances ascertained in preparation for the Mindful Eating exercise in week 4, and journals are handed out.

Handouts:

Mindful Breathing Instructions

Mindful Breathing Journey MP3

Mindful Breathing Counting MP3


Daily Practice:

Mindful Breathing

Become aware of (at least) one lovely pleasant thing/action and explore.


 Detail:

Mindfulness and Illness: Research correlating mindfulness with the development of a stronger immune system (Davidson et al., 2003) and new research positively correlating mindfulness with the prevention of ARI (acute respiratory infections) (Barrett et al., 2012) were discussed in class.  Singers can lose work through contracting colds or flu.

Repetition: Practice is important but can seem repetitious which is why there are many different mindfulness exercises presented to participants from which they can pick and choose depending on preference and need.

Primary and Secondary suffering:  Primary suffering occurs when an unavoidable situation, such as an audition or doing a performance, creates physical responses. The mind, unable to tell if the situation is life threatening or not, tells the body to prepare for fight or flight. Secondary suffering is a compounded reaction created by resistance to the progenitor of the primary suffering.  Usually occurring when the mind interacts from a past or future perspective, the response is additional to primary suffering. It can cause a variety of issues such as losing perspective, unnecessary worry, ruminative thoughts or symptoms of anxiety or depression.  Primary suffering may have to be accepted but secondary suffering can be helped by mindfulness.

An example would be getting marks back from a piece of work handed in three weeks earlier.  One might feel nervous, twitchy or even nauseous as the mind perceives an attack even though getting marks back is rarely life threatening. This is primary suffering. Thoughts and emotions often accompany these physical sensations, such as worrying about not having worked or researched hard enough in the past or fear of what a bad mark might mean for the future even though one does not know the result as yet. This is secondary suffering.  Sometimes a feedback loop occurs increasing the physical, emotional and mental symptoms. If one also had a lecture that morning, the secondary suffering might be so pronounced that one might not be listening to the lecturer and jeopardizing future work. This secondary mental suffering might make the sufferer, who can at this point do nothing about the mark, experience unnecessary suffering. Mindfulness at this point can help bring the sufferer into the present moment in the lecture thus aiding learning, taking the mind off the impending mark and relieving the mental and physical sensations until the moment of receipt of the mark.

Awareness of the Pleasant: Participants were asked to pick a neutral time and place each day and come into present moment awareness to notice something pleasant around them that they would not have noticed normally.

Mindful Yoga: A variety of yoga movements moving from work on the floor up to standing. The concentration is focused on the sensation of moving and, once in a Yoga posture, on breathing and releasing unnecessary muscular tensions.

Mindful Breathing (Counting):  A ten-minute breathing exercise usually done in a sitting position. After settling into a seated but attentive posture, the participant is encouraged to be aware of the sensations of normal breathing and drop a count of 1 at the end of the first breath, a count of 2 at the end of the second and so on. Once the tenth breath has been counted, the participant returns to 1 and repeats the process. At any time that the mind slips away and is noticed by the participant, they are asked to simply return the mind to the breath and start again from 1 with no judgmental thoughts of failure for losing concentration 

Mindful Breathing (Journey): This is another ten-minute seated breathing exercise. The breathing mechanism is broken into ten separate components. The participant starts by being aware of the normal breathing sensation at the tip of the nose, then in the throat, then expanding the lungs, the movement of the diaphragm, the lower abdominals, the pelvic floor, the lower back, the middle back, sensations of breathing in the shoulders, the sinuses and then starts again at the tip of the nose and repeats 

 

 

Week 4

Overview:

Week 4 starts like week 2. 

A research-based talk is followed by a group discussion on perception, criticism, and judgment is subsequently practically explored in the Mindful Eating exercise. This exercise is done with raisins, and then dairy chocolate or vegan chocolate (at participants’ preference). After a group discussion about the experience, there is a talk about the concept of “cataloguing”. Participants go into pairs to take part in a Mindful Listening exercise where for a specified length of time they are encouraged to listen attentively and mindfully to each other talk without mentally “cataloguing” or preparing a response. After a short insightful discussion, this is extended into the Sounds and Thoughts practice , which is introduced as the 10-minute formal practice this week. The informal practice in week 4 is a musically based Mindful Listening exercise. As usual, questions are invited and the journal is handed out.

Handout: Mindful Listening

 

Daily Practice:

Mindful Movement / Sounds and Thoughts downloadble MP3 from franticworld.com. 

Listen to music mindfully (in lectures/at home/concerts)

Eat one meal a day mindfully aware of each mouthful.


Detail:

Being judgmental:  The introduction example, “John was on his way to school, he was worried about the maths lesson, he was not sure if he could control the class again today, he’d not taught very much since becoming headmaster” was used to illustrate the suggestion that we tend to see the world as we are, not as it is.  Participants were encouraged to offer their experiences.

ABC Model of Emotions: Very basic introduction to Albert Ellis' (1991)  development of CBT. The way we interpret the world makes a difference to how we react. 

A: This is the situation itself. The stimuli.

B: Our interpretation or personal subtext (which we often take as fact).

C: Our reaction (emotional/mental/body sensation response/impulsion to act)

Being more mindful and in the moment can help interrupt point A from leading inexorably into point B. This can then affect our response to the experience, point C, changing our view point from the pre-expected to the raw experience or, to use mindful terminology, from reaction to reflection on the unpleasant/pleasant or neutral stimuli.

Dealing with criticism: A discussion of when criticism (from within and without) and being judgmental is constructive and helpful to learning and when it is not. Being self-aware, critical and judgmental in one respect when singing can aid us to learn and change in the moment. Berating ourselves and thinking ourselves worthless for doing something wrong can be damaging to learning.  The discussion was extended to include criticism from others in a singing context. 

“Cataloguing”:  A discussion about using mindful awareness to avoid ‘cataloguing’ behaviour, for example, hearing the start of a sentence and assuming (by drawing the answer from your mind’s catalogue) that you already know the end of the sentence. Another example is in dealing with criticism in lessons so that one is hearing what is actually said rather than letting your internal monologue drown out the reality and embellish on it.

Mindful Eating Exercise: An exercise to work on being judgmental, being critical, being in the moment, avoid ‘cataloguing’ and sense awareness. 

Materials – Pen, paper, raisin, grape, chocolate.

Participants were guided through the following points with the raisin, then the grape and then the chocolate.

“Take the raisin.  As though you had never seen one before.

1.     See it (explore with eyes).

2.     Hold it (weight/shadow).

3.     Touch it (swap hands, explore with fingers).

4.     Smell it (maybe no smell…).

5.     MINDFULLY Place it in your mouth – no chewing. Notice what your arm does, mouth does, tongue does to receive it.  Start to explore it with your tongue.

6.     Chew it. Consciously bite into it.  Taste, texture, notice what happens in the mouth.  Hear the sound of chewing.

7.     Swallow it. Feel the ‘wanting to swallow it’ feeling.  What does the tongue do to prepare for a swallow? Follow the sensation of swallowing all down.

8.     After effects. Aftertaste, absence of it, automatic tendency to have another?

Write down what you noticed.”

Observations were shared in the group.

Mindful Sounds practice: Participants were asked to be aware of their breathing and then to be aware of sounds around them.  In a music practice block, this meant a lot of different sounds to be heard, including the air conditioning.

Mindful Listening: This exercise encouraged the listening of one piece of music every day, being in the moment for every note and breathing into the physical/emotional or mental sensations brought about by the music. All singers have to be good listeners and this exercise could enhance their aural skills as well as their mindfulness skills. Listening to an unpleasant piece would work also on being judgmental, avoiding ‘cataloguing’ and being critical

 


Week 5

Overview:

Week 5 is a very practical week involving two mindful walking exercises. The first exercise involves participants coming into an intense present moment awareness of their own normal walking style, posture, and balance, watching others walk, copying others walking, and finally observing and experiencing walking as though going on stage to perform. This is punctuated by discussions about what has been observed and experienced. Then participants are taken on a pre-prepared mindful walk around their institution’s campus followed by another discussion when back in the room before being given a Mindful Walking hand-out as the informal practice for the week and recommended to use the Body Scan or Mindful Movement again as the formal 10-minute daily mindfulness practice.

Handout: Mindful Walking


Daily Practice:

Body Scan/Mindful Movement

One (or more) walk/s a day done mindfully. Be aware of surroundings and self.


Detail:

Mindful Walking (including mindful walk around campus):  Firstly, participants undertook a slow indoor exercise to become more aware of the sensations of walking.  They started with becoming aware of ‘stepping’ (the sensation of the foot connecting with the floor), then ‘lifting’ (the sensation of the foot lifting from the floor) and finally experienced ‘shifting’ (the sensation of weight change from one step to another during walking). They tried imitating each other’s walking.

Secondly, the participants went on a carefully selected walk for 10 minutes around the campus. The instruction was that there should be no talking unless commenting on the present (their body sensations, emotions, the sights, sounds, current weather etc.). The route was designed to take in as many experiences as possible both inside and out of buildings, going up and down stairs, across grass, gravel, tarmac, into large echoing spaces, small carpeted spaces etc.  

Pre-performance nerves: Participants were told they were to prepare a song to perform for the group the next week.  They were then asked to tell the group if they felt nervous and describe their physical ‘symptoms’.  Then they were asked to tell the group the sort of thing that went through their heads when nervous. It was suggested that physical sensations were normal and natural for nervous people (primary suffering) and that some nerves were important to perform in an exciting way.  However, negative thoughts that could accompany the physical sensations were not necessarily helpful (secondary suffering) and that mindfulness breathing techniques could help bring back reality to the situation and keep things under a little more control.

Performing nerves occur when the mind tells the body it is under attack and it prepares itself to run or hide.  Controlling, not ridding the body of nervousness is important. Performing is rarely a life or death situation but our bodies act as though it is and can impair performance or enhance it.

Present moment performance creativity: Once on stage, nerves can impair creativity as the body and mind either runs on autopilot or can shut down altogether due to fear.  Performing distorts time awareness where a song can seem to take a moment and then it is all over. Using mindful breaths on stage can help singing breathing technique and increase the ‘sense of time’ thus allowing the chance to be more creative in the moment. 

Sitting body scan: A body scan was done in the sitting position as a participant had mentioned they wanted to do it but not lying down. 



Week 6

Overview:

Week 6 starts in a similar way to week 2. There is a talk about how we orientate ourselves to life, the choices that mindfulness can give, and a recapitulation of pre-performance nerves strategies. Participants are informed about the next session, the Mindful Performance Workshop, and a discussion follows. Then participants are introduced to the Exploring Difficulties and Loving Kindness exercises, which are the next week’s 10-minute formal exercise, should the participants wish to do it, and this is followed by a reflective group discussion. The informal weekly practice can be chosen by the participants from the list on the Week 6 hand-out.

Handout: Exploring Difficulties


Daily Practice:

Exploring Difficulties

Choose an informal practice from the handout


Detail:

Loving Kindness: The Loving Kindness exercise is an exercise where one offers good thoughts firstly to oneself, then to close friends, then to acquaintances, to strangers in the wider world and finally, if required, to difficult people. It is often part of other exercises, such as the Exploring Difficulties exercise and can teach self-acceptance, self-care, and empathy.

Exploring Difficulties practice:   In this exercise, participants meditate on past or present problems that arise in the mind using a mindful and self-compassion based mind-set.

In the MfS course, participants were encouraged to practice this by first working on something that was not too stressful to remember, a mild example of music performance anxiety, for example. Then, if they wished, to use this technique to explore other difficulties in their lives always remembering that the breath is there as an anchor and to treat themselves with kindness and self-compassion (Loving Kindness exercise).


Week 7    

Overview:

Week 7 is unique to the MfS course where participants are able to use all the mindfulness techniques learnt in the previous few weeks in a highly targeted manner during a singing performance workshop. Where teaching and experiences in the other weeks was targeted towards both singing and daily life, this week’s session is purely dedicated to mindfulness for participants as singers.

After the normal question and answer session at the beginning of the session, participants, many of them feeling nervous, are taken through the Breathing Journey, Breathing Counting, a sitting Body Scan, and some Mindful Movement to test these various exercises on pre-performance nerves. Participants pull coloured stones out of a bag before each individual performance slot to determine by chance if they would sing next. Each performer is asked to stay in the moment as much as possible when performing, audience members are asked to stay in the moment as much as possible when listening. After each individual performance, audience participants are asked to give constructive critical feedback.  The performing participant is again reminded to stay as much in the present moment when listening to the criticism in order to accept and mindfully hear all the feedback. Performances and criticisms are recorded and disseminated to each participant after the session so that they can listen and see if their memory matched the reality. Audience members are also asked to see if they can tell if and when the performer was in the present moment. This is then correlated with the performer’s self-reported experience. At the end, the journal and the final hand-out are distributed. The weekly 10-minute formal practice is to be chosen by participants from the previous 7 weeks’ experience, and their informal practice is also their choice. They are also encouraged to search for other recommended sources of mindfulness practices, such as on the Internet and YouTube.

Handout: Mindfulness and more


Daily Practice:

Choose your practices yourselves

Choose an informal practice from the handout or revisit a favourite habit - do you notice anything new?


Detail:

Pre-Performance Nerves strategies: There were regular reminders to come back to the present moment and be aware of breathing and body sensations for all participants while they waited for their turn throughout the session.

Creativity in performance: Participants were encouraged to be mindful in performance and concentrate on the body sensation of breathing to keep them in the present moment in performance.

Taking Criticism: Each participant was given constructive criticism by the group to practise being mindful under pressure. They were encouraged to hear what was said rather than that what they imagined they heard. They were also reminded to attend to the present moment by staying aware of their breathing when a criticism was being given. This strategy was used to help deal with any body sensations or negative thoughts that arose from the critical assessment.


Week 8

Conclusion: A brief recapitulation of all that has been learnt.

Week 8 starts the same as week 2 and a summing up talk is given. This is followed by a Nourishing and Depleting exercise and a discussion, followed by a long supine Body Scan. Experimental participants and wait-list controls complete the post-intervention questionnaire as part of an insightful and reflective exercise at the end of this session, which gives participants the chance to reflect on their experience of mindfulness through this medium.


Daily Practice:

What’s now for you?


Detail:

Nourishing and Depleting exercise: In this exercise, one notes down nourishing and depleting activity patterns during the day and meditates on the outcome. Maybe in future, one might chose to break up depleting activities with nourishing moments (i.e. mindfulness or a walk) to develop resilience.

© Elfsinger Productions 2015